12 mars, 2018

Interview: Ask Bjørlo

Interview: Ask Bjørlo

By Heather Jones



Artist Ask Bjørlo's artwork Havmenn som tenner månen, (Mermen turning on the moon), 2017, is on view in our main gallery as part of the group exhibition Ode to a dishrag, hymn to a tiger, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Association of Norwegian Textile Artists (NTK). Below, Bjørlo answers our questions about his relationship to the long lineage of textile artists presented here, as well as his fascination with the medium and the influences behind this artwork.

Can you tell us about your background and how you came to work with textiles as a creative medium?

I grew up with artists around me, many of them textile artists, and I remember being especially drawn to their field of work as a young child. I decided to become a textile artist myself, and began to learn skills like knitting, crochet, tatting, etc. parallel to my schooling. I later began my studies and have now been through three different weaving schools, textile history at university, and I am currently working towards a masters degree at the National Academy of Arts in Oslo (KHiO). The textile field has so many interesting techniques, materials and expressions to offer. There are so many reasons why I love working with textiles. A good one might be that it requires my complete attention and bodily knowledge which makes it feel very satisfying when a job is complete. I find myself as if in a different world when I am captured by the rhythm of the loom or the slow pace of needlework. 

The work you have presented in the exhibition at Kunsthall Stavanger, Havmenn som tenner månen, (Mermen turning on the moon) 2017, is a provocative piece referencing a historical work by Frida Hansen. Can you describe this work to us, and the inspiration behind it?

The piece Havmenn som tenner månen (Mermen turning on the moon) is a piece reflecting upon human, universal themes of love, lust, loss and betrayal. The piece was originally displayed in a wall of 15 shelves at Kunstnerforbundet in Oslo. It is now presented in its own glass cabinet with thin steel frames and legs. Inside there are two glass shelves, creating a three-level cabinet where the textile sculptures are shown. On the upper level there is an erotic tableau in which mermen with sequined tails have seduced a group of human men underthe full moon. The middle level shows what goes on under the surface where a man is being pulled under water by a ferocious merman. Another merman dives deeper, and a corpse is sinking among schools of fish. The bottom level holds a couple of big and wavy sea plants and two dead men, laying peacefully on the bottom of the sea. I refer to Frida Hansen's tapestry Havfruer som tænder månen (Mermaids lighting the moon), woven in 1895, as a homage to her as a founding textile artist with a shared fascination for mer-people. The inspiration behind the piece is based on personal memories and events. However, the themes are universal, and I want to leave it to the viewer to associate and draw their own lines to their own life experiences. 

You've created a new work specifically for the version of Ode til en vaskeklut, hymne til en tiger at Kunsthall Stavanger, housed offsite with the collection of Frida Hansen tapestries at Stavanger Kunstmuseum. Can you tell us more about this new commission and do you consider an extension of the previous artwork?

The mermaids hat is the title of this sculptural installation. It consists of three marble rectangles laying on the floor, each carrying three steel rods upon which linen sculptures are placed. The sculptures are sewn out of plant dyed linen and represents forms and figures directly derived from Frida Hansen's tapestries. Being asked to produce a piece for this room was and is an honour. The room itself is beautifully curated and shows us a selected group of wonderful Hansen tapestries. I wanted to build on the experience of the room itself, and to give the viewer a chance to go even deeper into the collection by referring to forms and details. I also chose to work with natural dyes in this installation because this was one of Frida Hansen's fields of expertise. The title of the work comes from one of the mermaids in (again) the tapestry Havfruer som tender månen, 1895, that is wearing a white lily on top of her head. This lily is presented among roses, apples, candles, pearls and mussels which represents some of Hansen's recurring motifs. I believe both of the pieces I have on display in Stavanger have a strong connection to each other because they both refer to Frida Hansen, however I see them as two different pieces that compliment each other. 

For people not familiar with textile work, can you describe the process of making this artwork and how much time went into its creation?

The process of textile works varies as the techniques vary. These particular pieces however are created in similar ways where I've sewn shapes with a sewing machine that I've later turned inside out, filled with cushion stuffing, stitched together and then embroidered with silk and vintage sequins. The most time-consuming stages are the ones where I've had to test my way to good shapes and sizes, and the embroideries. Each piece took about two months to produce. 

Born in 1992, you are the youngest artist in the exhibition and your work is represented alongside historical works by artists such as Hannah Ryggen, Unn Sønju, and Birgit Hagen to name a few. How do you see your work in relation to the lineage of textile art in Norway (or abroad)?

Being able to show my pieces among these historical and contemporary artists' works fills me with awe. I do however see myself as their colleague and co-practitioner of the textile craft. We are all part of the history of textile art and traditions, and therefore I see it as a natural development for me to continue the art and protect the knowledge that has been handed down for thousands of years. Textile artists often share a close bond as we share so many interests, and based on this, I like to think that I could have been friends with my heroes and heroines of the past if I lived in their era. This is of course impossible, so I choose to honor them by studying their work and techniques, and simply appreciating their art for what it is. 

Do you have any other projects or exhibitions coming up that we can look forward too?

As I am currently occupied by my master studies at KHiO, I intend to focus on the task at hand and go in-depth within my weaving. Therefore, there are no set plans for exhibitions until I am finished with my degree, spring 2019. However at the 6th of April we will open a first year masters-show at KHiO that will be open to the public until the 8th of April. 

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